“I am here tonight to explain why no black people will ever be nominated for anything.”
Richard Pryor at the 1977 Oscar Awards
Since a major theme at the 2016 Oscar awards was a lack of diversity, I thought I’d show a clear and positive example of how that happens in Hollywood.
“One of those people who had long been concerned about the lack of diversity in American films was Laura Ziskin, a producer in Hollywood. Among her best-known produced works were Pretty Woman, As Good as It Gets, and the Spider-man films. Ziskin was in London when she first read my article A Butler is Well Served by this Election in the Washington Post. She and her producing partner, Pam Williams, tracked me down in a hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where I was on assignment.
“Ziskin and Williams were immediately drawn to the article as a potential movie and imagined The Butler as an epic, a story that would encompass modern civil rights history through the eyes of a White House butler.”
The Butler: A Witness to History
Ziskin died June 12, 2011 of cancer but not before helping putting the team of director Lee Daniels, screenwriter Danny Strong, and BET co-founder Shelia Johnson in place which set things in motion creatively and financially for Lee Daniel’s The Butler to eventually get produced. But it was never an easy rode to get made.
“This was something that Laura—basically on her deathbed—was fighting to get made. And we were turned down by every studio in Hollywood. And so we started to raise the funds independently, which we had never done an independent movie before. Laura had done amazing movies before but as you all know, but all studio movies. Actually the last week of her life she had a meeting on Tuesday with someone who had one the lottery and was interested in making films. So when I say we turned over every rock, I mean every rock. That was on a Tuesday and on Thursday Laura went onto a coma, and on Sunday she died. I mean it was that much of a passion project.”
“In a field where women are a minority, Ms. Ziskin had a number of commercial and artistic successes, including “No Way Out” (1987), the taut melodrama that helped make Kevin Costner a star; “What About Bob?,” a 1991 comedy with Bill Murray that she also helped write; “To Die For” (1995), a black comedy starring Nicole Kidman; and “As Good as It Gets,” a 1997 romance with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt that earned best-acting Oscars for both.
“As executive producer of “Pretty Woman” (1990), the megahit fairy tale about a romance between a prostitute and a business tycoon, Ms Ziskin insisted on an ending in which Julia Roberts has changed Richard Gere as fully as he has changed her.
NY Times, June 13, 2011
So there you go, that’s how you do it—persistence of vision. I’ll let Laura Siskin have the last word:
“Historically, the movie business has been a young white man’s business, and there is an ease of men amongst each other because they think alike. When you come into that as a woman, you are an alien to some degree because you think differently.”
The Hollywood Reporter in 1996.